More than a new brand name, ACE-approved Study.com is trying to combat rising tuition costs by giving students an alternative to earn college credit online.

study-community-colleges[Editor’s note: Based off of Google Analytics, this story was our third most popular article. It was originally published on March 18, 2015.]

Could an online education resource eliminate the need for community colleges? Such an undertaking might seem drastic, but it’s exactly what the newly re-launched Study.com aims to accomplish.

More than just a trendy name, Study.com offers 19 exclusive courses accepted for credit by the American Council of Education (ACE), and another 30 are currently under review. Students can also submit their scores to more than 2,900 accredited colleges for transfer credit.

Founded four years ago as Education-Portal.com, the website was initially launched to accommodate a boom of students looking for inexpensive and flexible learning-reinforcement resources online, which they could use to study for exams or to learn for fun.

Education-Portal decided to take things a step further by creating online courses designed to lead toward college credit. At first, their courses were aimed at helping students pass College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams, which grant college credit to (generally older) students for about $80 per course. They then realized that after taking enough of these general education courses through Education-Portal, students could essentially test out of their first 2 years of college at a fraction of the regular cost.

The team found that their lessons were being viewed by more than adults, as college students were using the website to help study for exams, and high school students were even using the resource to prepare for the SAT & ACT. As a result, more and more courses and lessons were added to meet the growing demand.

(Next page: How study.com works)

Not just popular but ACE-approved and accepted for transfers

With over 10 million visitors per month and 10,000 long-time subscribers, the website has achieved a fairly notable degree of popularity, and after being re-launched this month as Study.com, the website aims to continue growing its content while keeping the same flexibility for students seeking a new way to combat rising college tuition costs.

“We want to be the best study recourse on the web,” said director of education Jessica Bayliss. “The name Study.com is easier to understand and remember, shorter to type in, and hopefully will stay on people’s minds. We’re trying to use the momentum of the switch to Study.com to expand our content even further… and continue finding more ways to offer tangible outcomes for students.”

Study.com decides on the courses they would like to offer, then reaches out to a network of nearly 500 subject matter experts who work together to design the courses specifically for the online medium and its large audience. Only after a lengthy preparation and review process–including extensive fact checking and quality assurance–does a course go live, said the company.

“We look for instructors who ‘get’ this online format,” said long time Study.com instructor Jeff Calesero. “Many are referrals or teachers who use the site and apply because they want to try to teach for us. We have a massive amount of info available, including popular courses and lessons, the most well-liked instructors and editing styles, quiz performance, and anecdotal feedback from users. We try to pay attention to all of that and go forward to impact courses…so they are all taught memorably.”

Though Study.com is not free to use in itself, for a subscription fee of about $50 per month, students gain access to the website’s full library of over 1,000 courses and 10,000 individual lessons.

Now, 19 courses exclusively on Study.com are accepted for credit by the American Council of Education (ACE), and another 30 are currently under review. Students can take these courses at a flexible pace, with many that offer the possibility of completion in under 2 weeks, stretched out over the course of a winter or summer break, or whatever else works for the student.

Upon completion, students take a proctored exam, and if they pass, can submit their scores to more than 2,900 accredited colleges for transfer credit.

“This system is designed to be extremely accessible, and can really help students to afford college in a highly efficient way,” Bayliss said.

(Next page: What students are saying)

Moving past the “flaws” of a fixed path

“A service like this wasn’t available when I was in school, but I wish it was,” Calesero said. “It’s so much easier, simpler, and the lessons allow you to learn the way we do everything now: when it’s convenient for you. It allows anyone to fit class into their schedule.”

Essentially, students choose the course they wish to take and watch a series of video lessons (sometimes numbering more 100) that generally last about 5-10 minutes. Upon completing the video, students take an accompanying multiple choice quiz which gives them immediate feedback on how well they understood the concepts they just learned.

“I love the short videos that are super entertaining and never tiring,” said Study.com user Paula Brown. “I was able to skip buying an overpriced textbook…[and] I’ve passed four CLEP exams so far and earned 12 credits…in less than three months!”

“Our bite-sized videos are designed to more or less stand alone,” Bayliss explained. “The videos are not required to be viewed in order so that students can design their own learning path. One of the flaws of traditional education is that students are prescribed to a fixed path, but this way they can go at their own pace and account for any prior knowledge they have or what they most want to turn their attention towards.”

For many courses, though, students also have the option of taking a larger quiz tying the themes of multiple lessons together.

However, students are not left completely to their own devices. Boasting an “Ask The Instructors” feature on each course, students can submit questions that an instructor will respond to within a day or two at most.

“Our instructors love the opportunity to interact with their students and give them thoughtful and thorough answers,” Bayliss said. “We really believe in our model, and I see it as being a path to the future. Moving forward, we would like to create even more opportunities for students to interact with other students and instructors to make our model an even more complete experience.”

Looking to the future

“We want to become the ultimate study resource,” said Bayliss. “That means providing lessons to teach students everything they would want to learn. So, more specialized courses and test prep courses will be developed. And we want to expand the age range of students we serve.”

This means that for adults, Study.com will work to bolster their offering of teacher certification exam preparation, as well as work with companies to offer professional development and corporate learning courses. For kids kids, this means expanding middle school offerings and making videos for elementary school students.

Many teachers are also starting to use for the wide array of lessons on Study.com in the physical classroom, the company noted. They can show students the videos to supplant the main lesson plan and introduce the day’s concept to students, or can use them to flip their classroom by assigning the videos and accompanying quizzes as homework, allowing the teacher to track the progress and understanding of their students via the quiz scores.

(Next Page: could Study.com ever really eliminate the need for community colleges?)

There’s more to learning than passing a test

Though Study.com has received high praise, can it conquer the education landscape and eliminate the need for community colleges as it purports?

“There’s so much more going on in community college environments than just simply a transfer of information, countered Bunker Hill Community College Professor Ed Cuoco. “Modeling, synthesizing information that computers can’t convey…and even the use of real-time examples in the news by teachers all help students develop their skills and ensure ideas get through. I just don’t see that going away.”

Naugatuck Valley Community College Lecturer Brian Goedde echoed this idea, noting that “community colleges do so much more than offer just general education courses.”

For instance, numerous studies indicate that a majority of community college students take one or more developmental refresher courses after enrolling in order to ensure they are ready for the college level.

Another potential issue for the online medium is whether or not certain subjects can be taught as effectively online as they are through human interaction.

“How ‘stable’ is the subject, and is there significant nuance that completes the picture or provides a more accurate representation for the student,” pondered Cuoco. “For example, it’s quite hard to teach writing skills without live interaction. The development of persuasion, creativity, and the ability to think critically and apply logic to a situation… it’s impossible to teach all that in any broadcast environment.”

Moreover, not being taught by an actual instructor could prove jarring with many students.

“There are many learners who do great online, but there are many who don’t,” said Goedde. “Many students need classroom time with face to face interaction where they get answers to their questions as needed. It doesn’t sound like the Ask the Instructor function is enough to ensure students succeed. What about tutoring or advising?”

Both professors also noted that the environment, discipline, and drive of a student play a large role in how well they might succeed using a service like Study.com exclusively.

“Unfortunately, many community college students are just not as self-motivated,” said Goedde. “Great student skills allow you to be an independent learner online, and often, community college students aren’t great online learners.”

For students who are properly motivated, though, Study.com could prove to be an invaluable resource.

“My goal is to receive a degree in nursing,” wrote Study.com Biology student Alexandria Wilkes. “I took my Kaplan test about a year and a half ago at the school I was attending. Unfortunately my scores were not high enough to be accepted into the RN program. I had taken Biology and that was what I scored the lowest in. Frustrated, I had no desire to attempt to take my test again. I felt defeated and the thought of retaking the test left me in fear. I thought I wasn’t smart enough. I have two children that are dependent on me and my income is so low, I lost hope.”

Finding Study.com made all the difference for Wilkes, however. For the first time in over a year, Wilkes said she felt excited and positive about her future in nursing. “I really thought I wasn’t smart enough, but the way this program breaks the subjects down, I feel encouraged. Words cannot explain how much help this program is to me.”

“It really comes down to being able to reach students in a new way,” Calesero said. “You lose that one-on-one interaction, but engage them in other ways. Study.com has a visual element and transcript, and the quiz helps you retain the knowledge. It’s tailored to students who want to learn. Keeping students engaged and interested is difficult, so showing 5 to 10 minute videos they can pick and choose to watch and look back on could prove much more effective…[in getting them] more excited about learning. That’s what’s great about Study.com, and why I think it has tons of potential.”

For more on Study.com and how it works, take a look here.


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